Today’s topic focuses on a tool used by teams that most people know about, but they may not realize that there are rules governing its use. It’s used on every play and is critical to both teams. What can this vital gridiron instrument be? The helmet speaker!
If you watch football on a regular basis, there are two images you see several times a game: the coach talking into a headset (usually with a huge play sheet covering his face) and the quarterback staring at the sideline between plays (sometimes with his hands over the ear holes on his helmet, like he’s trying to keep his brains from spilling out). Without needing an explanation from the commentators, you know that the QB is getting instructions from his head coach, or maybe some assistant coach, like the offensive coordinator. What you may not know is that the defense also has a player on the field with a speaker in his helmet. You may also not realize that, like everything else in football, there are rules for how this means of communication between the field and the sidelines can be used.
The rules governing helmet-to-sidelines communications are found at NFL Rule 5, Section 3, Article 3. Here are some of the highlights:
² Only one player from each team may have speakers in his helmet while on the field;
² Players with such helmets must display a league-provided decal on the back of his helmet;
² Each team can have a maximum of three helmets with speakers for its QBs, and a maximum of two such helmets for defensive players who have been designated as the “primary” and “backup” users;
² If an offensive player who is not normally a quarterback, but who can be used as a quarterback, he must have two helmets—one with speakers and one without;
² When a QB enters the game for the first time, or re-enters after being out, he has to report to the referee;
² Similarly, the backup user for the defense must report to the umpire when entering the game and the primary user must report to the umpire when he returns to the field; and
² If the primary and backup users for the defense are both out, no other players may have a helmet with a speaker.
When the primary user on defense is on the field, the backup user can still be in the game. However, he has to keep his speaker helmet locked up on the sideline. All speaker helmets not in use must be secured in a storage trunk that will be provided by the league. The trunks are located in off-limits areas and access is controlled and monitored by NFL personnel during the game. Yeesh. You’d think they were protecting the nuclear football or something…
Contrary to popular belief, if one team’s communication system between the coaches and the players malfunctions or shuts down, the other side does not have to discontinue use of its system to talk to its players. It is a different story, however, when the intercom system between coaches (i.e., between the coaches in the team boxes and the coaches on the sidelines) malfunctions. Oh, and in case you were wondering, the frequency employed by the system is encrypted, making it impossible for a third party to listen in. Very secret agenty!